The truth of Easter speaks to the very attacks which have overshadowed it.
As most will know by now, at least three Sri Lankan hotels and three churches were bombed during Easter services at the weekend. Roughly 300 are dead, 450 wounded.
We must pray for these people in the hour of their suffering, and for their persecutors, as Jesus reminded us to do.
But Sri Lanka speaks of a reality that’s common on the global scene.
Christians have been persecuted around the world for two millennia, and still are.
In the modern West, we know that we have enjoyed a rarefied atmosphere in which it has been possible to live under the reality of the Apostle Paul’s prayer, that the godly life might be a life of peace (1 Tim 2:1).
That’s why I was able to sit through an Easter service in a Cathedral, in Sydney’s CBD, with doors open onto a main street.
But that peace is fragile.
I sat in that church before news of Sri Lanka broke, but nonetheless had the thought that I’d have to enjoy the freedom whilst it lasted.
Being up close and personal with the politics of the day, I can see emerging challenges on enough fronts now to accept that things are not going to stay the same.
We live in crucial times.
In just a few short years, we could see the end of Christian schools as we know them, the outlawing of Christian beliefs on sexuality and gender, Christian parents certified as child abusers, the firing and de-accrediting of Christian employees and professionals, and legal attacks on the church. To name a few.
Note, too, that the Morrison government has recently seen fit to boost security funding to churches and synagogues by $55 Million.
A Canberra man was arrested just recently for hatching a plot to kill Christians. Though once a Christian himself, he had converted to Islam and purchased a sword from Pakistan to do the job.
The ACL office was car bombed not so long ago.
Security challenges are real, and intensifying.
For many, it’s too hard to think about. It’s easier to pretend it isn’t so. Or, more commonly, to place so much faith in human nature and Australian society as to imagine it’s not possible.
I’m not one to say it can’t be averted, but it’ll take a mammoth effort, and the hand of God.
But perhaps we will be better at facing these matters if we think clearly about them.
It may well be that the road we are called to tread is not one of political success – though we hope and pray for it – but of Christian faithfulness, against the odds.
Jesus Himself, on the night of His betrayal, said as much.
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you… But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” (John 15:18-21)
The world has not changed.
It rejected the Author of Life, the Holy One, the Son of God. It hated Him, persecuted Him, and hounded Him to the darkest death sentence available.
Therefore we, who are called to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth, ought never to be surprised that a world of sin rejects what is true and good and right, even violently.
Of course, the great mystery of our age is this: despite all that, God’s work never ceases to advance.
Somehow, His witnesses continue to advance His will by their faithfulness.
People see our good works, and glorify God. People hear the gospel and are cut to the heart. The truth is spoken, and evil is held at bay. We shine as lights in dark places, and the darkness does not win. We exist as salt, impacting those in our immediate circumstances for good.
And the gates of hell do not prevail against the church of Jesus Christ, as He promised.
But there is a competing narrative, which threatens to overwhelm us. A narrative of hostility, rejection, and despair.
Hear the Apostle Paul bring these two realities together:
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” (2 Cor 4:8-12)
There are two realities of Easter. The first is the cross, and the second is the resurrection.
We live in the light of both.
To carry His cross is to carry the offence He carried. To be hated without a cause, as He was.
To manifest His life, is to grow into His image and be busy in His service – a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, who applies all His merits to our account and changes us from the inside out.
It is to receive power to be His faithful witnesses (Acts 1:8).
The normal Christian experience of the ages, the world over, has been to know and rejoice in both truths. It has been to identify with the Lord Jesus Christ in both His cross and His life.
We are called to bear the cross of Christ, just as much as we are called to live in the power of His resurrection.
From Paul to these Sri Lankan believers, and so many in-between.
We need this perspective, because God so often takes His people through the ashes of apparent defeat in order to win a greater victory in His purposes. The cross itself is an example par excellence.
It was there that the final enemy had won such an apparent victory… but death was in fact, at the same time, serving the ultimate purposes of God to break it’s back and put it to an open shame.
“Death is swallowed up in victory!” (1 Cor 15:54)
Our persecuted brothers and sisters the world over have much to teach us. Far from defeated, 300 or so Sri Lankan Christians know this truth now more than ever.